Dean Charles Burchett died yesterday, and the world will be forever lesser because he is gone.
He served many roles in his lifetime, but when I crossed his path, he was the Dean of Student Conduct at UT. I was a freshman, with something of a disregard for formalities, like dorm rules.
In fairness, the RA on my floor felt kind of put-upon to have to supervise the only floor without unlimited visitation that summer. She was a goody-two-shoes sort, and I think she had a general dislike for freshmen in general. Fortunately for her, there weren’t many of us. Unfortunately for us, there weren’t many of us, so there were fewer to share the possibility of blame.
I did a few things that probably deserved probation on the basis of conduct, like calling for the elevator, and just as the door opened, firing a bottle rocket under her door, hopping in, and departing at some random floor in Carrick Hall to wander about innocently, before taking the stairs to the lobby. Never got busted for that one, even though I must have done it a half-dozen times.
But on the day of a surprise room inspection, I merited close scrutiny, and was written up for three different things on the same day. As any Vol knows, three write-ups in a quarter earns one a series of weekly visits with the Dean. My crimes? A cat, a refrigerator not rented from the official usurers, and I’d re-wired a phone to put an extension by my bed (this was in the old days, where there was one phone for two double rooms).
Pretty mild, compared to some of what Dean Burchett dealt with on a daily basis. But he took his responsibility to counsel me seriously, using humor and compassion to reach out to a student who didn’t realize the guidance that was needed. It must have taken though, because I can still hear his words today.
He asked me if I went to church, and I told him I did. He asked where, and I told him the name of my home church in Oak Ridge. "Well, that’s the problem!" he exclaimed, "those Methodists are too damned liberal."
(I’m still a Methodist, though I concede that liberals are welcome and do exist there.)
I didn’t miss the humor in that statement… and from that point on, I actually looked forward to visiting him each week. Even after the quarter ended and I was no longer required to show up, I dropped by from time to time just to chat.
At the end of every meeting he would tell me, "You’re not a bad girl. You just like a little mischief."
I needed that.
Tim, Charles, and Joyce, your father shone his light on many. You’re lucky to have been his first priorities, and the rest of us are lucky to have had our 30 minutes a week for a few months.